Returning to the Dehydrating of Food
May 2, 2011 7:10 am
Updated: May 11, 2011 12:14 pm
I’ve been trying to remember when I stopped dehydrating food. Must have been over twenty years ago. My dehydrator, at that time, was a home built one with a fir plywood cabinet, fiberglass screen shelving and a small fan. Vapor exhausted through twelve
one inch holes around the top. The heat source was sixteen sixty watt light bulbs. You controlled the temperature by screwing in bulbs for higher temps and unscrewing bulbs for lower temps. It was primitive but not as primitive as laying the zucchini on a
hot rock in the sun. It served me well for several years.
Then, one day, I had an abundance of shredded zucchini for the drier. Also, I had to fulfill a large meat order for a restaurant so I thought I could speed up the drying process by adding more of the squash than normal and not interrupt the meat processing.
After nine hours of preparing the meat, I went in to check the squash. The stench in the house was horrible! At first I couldn’t believe it was the squash so I was looking for anything other than that.
When I finally opened the dehydrator, there was a seething, brewing mass of dripping green flowing over the drip tray and falling on top of the light bulbs. I unplugged the dryer and as I carried it outside, it dripped on my pants and the smell caused me to
be in a constant state of gagging.
I had set it by the compost containers and was returning to the house when my wife returned home and I waited to greet her. As she approached from the car, she suddenly stopped short, wrinkled her nose, squinted and said, "What have you been in? Oh! It’s awful!"
My reply? "Think this is bad? Better stay out of the house."
I won’t divulge any more of that conversation. I’m sure you can imagine many scenarios and I’m certain all of them will be close to the truth.
I never gave up that old dehydrator. It can’t dry anything in it without leaving an unwelcome taste but it was such a neat unit, I just couldn’t make myself dispose of it.
Anyhow, that was the day I learned a very important lesson of dehydrating. Don’t disrupt the circulation unless you want accelerated compost.
In a comment on my previous post, I described the food dehydrator that my wife brought home, thus, "... It is the Guide Series at Gander Mountain. That's their brand and the only large capacity one they sell. It's thermostatically controlled (90 - 165 degrees)and
an electric heating element that looks similar to an oven igniter for a gas range. It has five sturdy chrome shelves (16"x14.25") with plenty of circulation area between them. It vents from the front so there shouldn't be any damage to any walls or woodwork.
The cabinet is all stainless steel for easy clean up and good appearance... I found that the citrus dried evenly throughout the cabinet in spite of it’s square shape."
I’ll define dehydrating as I use it. Somebody else may have their definition or there may be a professional with an official definition. I’ll gladly watch for them but these are my definitions.
If there is a common definition from an authoritative source, I will gladly learn it. In no way or manner am I trying to present myself as an expert.
I have an axiom that is pointless but it stirs conversation when I talk about food dehydration. "Dry is dehydrated but dehydrated is not dry"
For my use, drying food is removing all of the moisture until the product is brittle.
I see dehydrating as removing moisture to a point that I want to achieve. It might be quite soft or it may be nearly dry- but not dry. Quite soft might be removing the water from tomato slices to a point that the tomato slice can be picked
up and stay together yet bends easily.
Here are my levels of dehydration. Each level has it’s place in how I plan to use it.
Deglazed: Removing enough moisture to alter the characteristics (usually of fruit) to make a firmer, more durable, product than fresh. Will have no wet or glossy appearance.This works well for soft fruits that will crush when folded with other
heavier ingredients. Example: peaches in a fruit salad.
Keeps shape when picked up but starts sagging after several seconds: I use this when I want an item to keep its taste and shape in the freezer. Example: Tomato slices.
Keeps shape when picked up. Will have modest cracking when bent: Snacks. Has short shelf life outside of refrigeration. I do this to freeze them for winter use.
Very firm. Chewy. Cracks heavily when bent: An example of nearly very firm would be fruit leather. Has longer shelf life outside of refrigeration.
Dry. Breaks when bent. For a crunchy snack such as veggie chips.
Very Dry. Hard. Shatters when bent. I use this stage for items that I will powder or chip and store in uncontrolled environments. Usually for seasoning ingredients.
I have many notes from many years ago that have survived the transition between the 70's/80's and now. Most would apply to the old dehydrator but many are still valid. Aside from being watchful of the dehydrator, making notes of your experience is likely the
most important thing that should be done for affective food preservation. There are many environmental conditions that affect the consistency of the final product- even from hour to hour- so do not expect the same results although you are dehydrating the second
batch of same food. Having notes to fall back on can make the difference between a good batch and an excellent batch.
I have used the dehydrator as an environment for raising yeast doughs. I set the temp at 100 degrees, cover the dough with dry linen towels, place it on the lower shelf position and then place a very moist towel on the upper shelf position. The very moist towel
keep enough moisture around the dough to keep the raw dough from crusting. The yeast loves it! Tonight, I'm making a pizza. I'll revive this technique with the crust.